This week sees Superman as a character hit 75 years of being a part of popular culture. 75 years of the red and blue boy scout saving the day, “fighting for truth, justice and the American way,” and being the proto-superhero that all others are derived from in someway. Without Superman you could argue that we wouldn’t have the comic book industry as we know it and as a result all these superheroes filling the big screen on a yearly basis during the summer months. 75 years of history, legacy, action, adventure and its fair share of controversy. Comic books, cartoons, books, audio plays, video games and of course, movies. Superman is an ever-present figure and one we all know yet many completely misunderstand the character and what he stands for. This goes for comic book fans too by the way, they can be some of the worst at misunderstanding Superman.
75 years is a big milestone for the character and a big year for him as a franchise because, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, a big fancy pants new movie is coming out about him. Man of Steel nears release with each day and is set to cap off a banner year for the character celebrating him and taking him into the future. Before we go any further here’s the shiny new trailer for Man of Steel,
Epic stuff I think you will agree. It hits all the right spots for me as a huge Superman fan. It also looks like it is making some tweaks and changes to the well established origin story for the character. Which is understandable, you have to change things up a bit to make the movie work and also keep things moving forward. The slightly darker tone seems to work well because the hope that Superman himself brings to anything makes the coldness bearable. The character contrasts with everything in the movie which is a really interesting idea. There’s lots of hints and teasers for the epic action that director Scott Snyder has promised fans. Also the planet Krypton looks like it is going to be amazing and out of this world once again. The new music is dulled but still has hints of booming action in it that will no doubt be brought out in the final film. As a whole it feels very new while paying homage to the past, which is the right thing to do.
Dropping the old iconic Superman theme by John Williams is sad yes but needed because…well it is a tad dated at this point. (DON’T THROW ROCKS AT ME!) This is a new Superman for a new generation of cinema goers and as we have seen in the past with Superman Returns, being too steeped in the Christopher Reeve movies can be detrimental and as much as I love those movies it is time to move on. Batman managed to move on from the Tim Burton movies to eventually, with a couple hiccups, the Nolan trilogy of films which updated the character with a modern sensibility. So why not Superman?
Anyway I am really looking forward to Man of Steel! It is promising to be the Superman movie I have always dreamed of; action, spectacle, classic villains, an origin done right and at its heart have a message.
But Superman is more than just his movies, to me anyway.
Like I said earlier everyone knows Superman as a character and everyone has a history of being entertained by him. I challenge you to find someone in the western world who has not seen Superman in at least one of the following:
- A movie
- A cartoon
- A comic books
- A video game
For my superhero obsessed life Superman has always been there in one way or another. My earliest memories are of watching the Christopher Reeve movies when they were on TV. ITV over here in the UK used to regularly show them on public holidays to fill their schedules and as a result I ended up watching all four of them on a semi-regular basis. Sadly the one they showed most often was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace rather than the still brilliant Superman II. So my earliest memories are full of Superman flying around the world gathering up all the nuclear weapons then throwing them into the sun. Still as a child I was mesmerised and I can remember running around in Superman pyjamas complete with velcro attached cape, saving the day in the back garden. I also remember watching a lot of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman which I don’t really look back on to fondly these days because it was a bit…naff.
Sadly I went from having childhood wonder about the character to being a brat around 11 /12 and my early teens. I lived under that misconception that Superman wasn’t cool, that characters like Batman and the X-Men were better. I actively avoided Superman the Animated Series wrongly thinking it was terrible. Focusing on two cartoons, Batman the Animated Series and Spider-Man. As a result my life was relatively Superman free for a few years. But he was still there waiting for me to come back. During this time I found and fell in love with Spider-Man. He became my favourite superhero and still is to this day with level pegging with Superman of course! He was relatable and the cartoon had a load of drama in it. I liked Spider-Man so much that I picked up a comic book.
It changed my life.
Picking up Astonishing Spider-Man #18 from WHSmiths started a chain of events that would lead me back to Superman and in turn the DC Universe. From reading this reprinted collection of tales I wanted more. I kept buying the book from this point on and pretty much just read Spider-Man comics. Eventually in my mid-teens I started to branch out first with other Marvel comics and characters in trades then some darker stuff from the likes of Dark Horse Comics. Then because of my ever present like for Batman (everybody loves Batman!) I picked up a few Batman trades the most notable being Hush which I have written about in the past. Which in featured Superman as one of the supporting characters.
Suddenly all that childhood wonder came rushing back. Batman’s fight with Superman was tense and action packed. Batman had to use all of his skills and tricks just to survive while the Poison Ivy controlled Superman just kept coming at him. His powers seemed cool again and I wanted to know more. Around this time I also got into the Justice League cartoon mainly because it featured Batman and continued the continuity of Batman the Animated Series. So I was getting a basics class in the DC Universe and as a result Superman.
It was also around this time that I watched the first episode of season 2 of Smallville on E4. A show I had initially dismissed as being a cheesy show about the early years of Superman that would surely be cancelled within a year. The advert for the start of season 2 made it look interesting so I gave it a go. Then within three weeks I had bought and watched the season 1 boxset and I had my new favourite TV show! That I watched until around season 8 before giving up on it because it had become a shadow of its former self and completely messed with the story of Superman. Keeping him out of the suit and flying for as long as possible. Making other heroes public superheroes before Superman and in general going off book with a lot of its later ideas and stories. Although saying that I am planning on going back to it and watching it from start to finish cringeiness be damned at some point!
But Smallville served a really good purpose. All the winks and nods it constantly made to Superman storylines, tropes, characters and villains begged you to dig deeper. As a result I was brushing up on my already now considerable Superman knowledge acquired from watching Justice League and I had even started watching Superman the Animated Series on dodgy video streaming websites. I was seeing regular displays of his power and character once again. My interest in the character started to grow once again. So when I saw the trade for Superman/Batman Vol.1 Public Enemies by the same writer, Jeph Loeb, as Batman: Hush sitting in Waterstone’s one fateful day, I immediately picked it up.
In true Jeph Loeb style Public Enemies gives you a best of Superman and Batman team-up tropes and plays to the strengths of both characters in the process. Batman the tactician. Superman the hopeful heavy hitter. Superman brought out the best in Batman, making him smile and they have a genuine friendship despite their vast differences. Superman could make the normally serious Batman have crazy out there adventures and they played off each other perfectly. I was hooked! I picked up all the trades of Superman/Batman I could at the time and when I ran out I started exploring other DC trades featuring Superman. I quickly went from Superman: For Tomorrow to the build up to Infinite Crisis to the event itself. I even went back to older Superman trades and Elseworlds tales I had picked up on a whim. I found and became obsessed with Superman: Red Son. I was devouring everything Superman related that took my fancy. I even started looking into Superman’s past and picked up trades of older stories, which to this point I had never really done with any other superhero. Most notably I picked up the huge Omnibus Edition of The Death and Return of Superman. Released in the run up to the Superman: Doomsday animated movie.
Just look at the size of the thing!
Then two very important things happend:
1) I saw the final episode of Justice League Unlimited which featured the following fight between Superman and Darkseid
It blew me away and cemented the idea in my mind that Superman is the most powerful and amazing superhero there is! It perfectly condenses what the character is about in a truly epic way and shows what happens when he really lets loose. It is a perfect moment and a brilliant fight. Here’s hoping Scott Snyder has seen this particular episode of Justice League Unlimited too!
2) I went on an extended family holiday to America where I found an American comic book store. In which I bought every single issue comic book I could fit in my suitcase.
I was now a monthly comic book buyer and my need for more Superman comics (among others like Spider-Man and the Avengers) fuelled that switch from trades to floppies. It was mainly because at this time DC were in a word, inconsistant, with releasing things in trades so a chance to read everything regularly and more importantly in order, appealed to me.
Since then I have read every Superman monthly comic as they have come out and picked up many of the DC books he regularly appears in like Justice League. I often sight my gradual growing interest in Superman as the source for my obsession with comic books and in particular DC Comics. I would have been happy like many geeks are, just picking up Batman and Spider-Man trades every now and then. But the culmination of all the events, TV shows, comics and movies I have consumed featuring Superman made me want to explore the DC Universe and its colourful cast of characters and more confusing concepts. I have read god knows how many Superman stories at this point and I have an endearing/annoying (it depends on who you ask!) love for the character. It has given me an encyclopaedic knowledge of the modern DC Universe both Pre and Post Flashpoint all driven by a need to see what Superman is up to next.
Most importantly though Superman has given me something to strive for. To always try and do the right thing. That is what the whole character is about! Doing the right thing. People often confuse this with always being good and in turn seeing Superman as this holier than you figure who can do no wrong. I used to think the same way but when you have read as many Superman comic books as I have you realise Superman makes a lot of mistakes and often doing the right thing leads to terrible consequences that he has to bare the brunt of. Yet he never gives up. He picks himself up learns from his mistakes and moves on. It is one of the themes at the heart of Smallville and also thankfully it is an idea that is at the heart of the New 52 version of the character.
This new younger and more brash vision of Superman works perfectly with how I see the character. He is still the same hero we know and love but he has a rough edge to him because of his inexperience. He fights for his ideals and can and will indeed make mistakes. Also his relationship with Wonder Woman is a new and interesting thing to see play out in the main DC Universe. He may not be DC’s biggest selling character but I just can’t get enough of him. Every issue of Superman and Action comics I read is read with excitement and every time Superman punches a bad guy I have a smile on my face. He brings out the best in me by wearing the best aspects of man on his sleeve. He doesn’t hide behind a mask or an agenda. He just wants to help you. He is the only hero who will stop to help you get your cat out of tree because he’s just that kind of guy. He’s one of the few comic book characters that has actually helped people. Such as when one person suffering with depression read this particular page of All-Star Superman,
To quote the piece about this page:
“I have struggled with depression ever since I was ten years old. It had crippled me emotionally. I was 27 years old, no college degree, no job and no will to live. I decided to kill myself after Christmas.
And then my sister’s boyfriend loaned me these comics. Superman is dying of radiation poisoning and is trying to complete all of his tasks before he dies, but he still takes the time to save a young girl who is about to jump off a building.
I cried for hours after reading this. I identified with that girl so much, and I could almost hear Superman telling me that I’m stronger than I think.
Now every time my depressesion starts to rear its ugly head, I just repeat his words and imagine him hugging me when I’m standing on the edge. It works better than any medication or therapy I’ve ever had.
Now I’m in college and top of my class. I have friends. I have a life. And I don’t care that he’s a fictional comic book character. He still saved me.”
That is the power Superman has as a character because everyone know him no matter how engaged they are with him as an entertainment franchise. It is also something I can related to due to my own history with depression. He always does the right thing even if it is someone reading a comic featuring him and coming to a profound realisation about themselves and their place in life. How can you not love him?
So that’s Superman & me and why I love the character so god damn much.
One last thing though, I thought I would share with you a short list of some of my favourite Superman stories and comics featuring Superman to check out and enjoy!
A brilliant introduction to the core elements of the character and the more aspirational aspects of him.
One of the best origin stories for the character which once again plays with the idea of Superman always trying to do the right thing. One of Make Waid and Leinil Yu’s best works.
The ultimate Elseworlds story because it does the unexpected. It treats the idea of Superman being a communist with respect and care. Crafting a story that says more about the character than most regular DC Universe Superman stories.
To many the perfect Superman story. It plays with the long history of the character to write a love letter not only to everything he represents and stands for but to comic books as a medium. Just simply brilliant stuff.
Bringing back one of the older and more fantastical elements of the Superman franchise in a big way. This storyline sees Superman being confronted with the dark reality of his childhood adventures and the consequences of his legacy. Big. Crazy. Epic. It is also one my favourite Legion of Superheroes stories so it is a nice two for one!
Split across various trades or collected in huge omnibus editions like the one I have. This is perhaps the most famous Superman story and you know what? It’s actually a really good read. Sure it has its more poorly thought out and cheesy elements but it is entertaining no the less.
Set in a very dark and bleek future for the DC Universe, Kingdom Come shows us what happens when superheroes like Superman become irrelevant in the face of a younger, more violent generation of heroes. Seen as the counter argument to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns this book delves into darkness but has a positive message at its heart. Aspirational heroes are a need rather than a want.
Another origin story for the Man of Steel but this one is derived from the Christopher Reeve version of the character. A more simplified and idealised version of the character full of warmth and heart.